Hi, I’m Justine. My husband and I live with out three girls in Malawi, Africa where we work in discipleship and development. I write about the small things that make up our days, and you will often find references to birth and the enneagram hidden throughout. I’m a rhyme addict, and my biggest lessons of parenthood and cross-cultural life often are articulated best in poetry.
Five things I’ve learned about being on a short term team
Americans. We are hard to generalize in one statement, because we are diverse. However, generally overseas, we are known to be loud, and vocal with our opinions. We are very expressive with our emotions, and we really like to give hugs. Before moving overseas, I didn’t realize how uncomfortable this can make other cultures feel, particularContinue reading “Embrace: A word for the year”
My daughter, like many others, loves to put on my shoes. Strangely my sturdy Tevas are not as picturesque as a pair of heels. The first time she tried them on, my pulse quickened with concern. My shoes are with me everywhere. The street. The dirt. Drop toilets. Everywhere. And in wanting to be likeContinue reading “Missionary Feet”
This was my eighth time re-entering American culture for a short period of time, five of those occurring during the five years in which I have lived overseas – which means five of these trips I arrived on American soil recognizing that I would soon be leaving it again. Each time I have felt differently,Continue reading ““See you laters” and Sacred Space”
My first mother’s day was the worst. I was completely loved by my selfless husband and perfect newborn daughter, and my own mother had even traveled around the world to be a mom to me as a I became one. But I was sick, and I didn’t know it. I was exhausted, and couldn’t sleep.Continue reading “Thoughts on Mother’s Day”
Food movies make me want to move to France. By and large these movies include French words, French cuisine, and an overall love for everything French. Since our daughter’s name is French, this would be a natural move – supposing we could find a small town such as the one in A hundred foot journeyContinue reading “The Market”
Over the Christmas holiday, we traveled to Uganda. In Kampala, Ryan was able to see a movie in a theatre for the first time in a year, along with his brother and our travel companions. Amelie and I stayed at the guesthouse, as it was a late night event and we didn’t think that “TheContinue reading “On Death, Life and a New Year”
We all thought it was obvious. Something was clearly visible between two blurry black and white legs on the screen. It was the first time we’d seen this growing human; the first time we laid on this small growing body that was moving inside of me before I could feel it. But, at sixteen weeks,Continue reading “October 11: The International Day of the Girl Child, and why I care”
Malawian garlic is small. Very small. When a recipe calls for one clove of garlic, I use four. Chop off the small end, and carefully peel back shell to reveal tender, pungent flesh. Until two months ago, I was helpless in the kitchen. Kitchen wisdom from my resourceful mother, and tips from my creative-in-the-kitchen sister-in-law,Continue reading “Finding space to create in a garlic clove”
We couldn’t have been asleep for more than a few hours. Waking up in the middle of the night has become a pattern in these last few weeks of pregnancy – each time a reminder that life is growing, coming soon. This time, there was shaking. It was like an earthquake, and I relaxed untilContinue reading “Malaria: A global issue becomes personal”
If you’ve ever wanted a practice in humility, try learning another language. Language blunders provide ample opportunity for both sublime entertainment and profuse apologies. For example, Ryan and I have been quick to learn that the word meaning “to plan or prepare” sounds very similar to the word used to describe relieving oneself. Thankfully RyanContinue reading “Language lessons in humility”
I remember opening up the box. It was a gift received in celebration of the completion of my college education – a right of passage, in a way – my very own Canon DSLR. I remember words spoken around me as I opened it up – I was to photograph what I saw in myContinue reading “4 Things To Consider Before Taking Off Your Lens Cap”
We have gotten in the habit of taking a daily walk around Namikango, weather permitting. If red-caked mud doesn’t cling to our shoes, it’s into the forest we go – through trees covering carpets of green life, past tall maize which must be near ready to harvest. We walk past the maternity clinic, greeted byContinue reading “Walking large”
First-time visitors are reliable to come up with observation statements, often comparing things that seem similar to the way they are at “home.” The clothing, the coca-cola, car companies and brand names. Isn’t it interesting that while we may love taking in the “newness” of things around us, our sight is drawn to what weContinue reading “Plumerias and Cooking Fat”
“When did you know you were called to missions?” I have often had people ask. Rather than share about a voice from above experience, I share about people that have influenced my understanding of Jesus over the years. Of a college education that left me convinced that because I follow Jesus, I want to beContinue reading “Why Malawi?”
Work: Alleviating poverty and the danger of false identity
Idleness is debilitating.
Father, husband, shows up at a construction site, waiting for the day’s assignment. No work for the day, he wanders back into the streets, unable to provide for his family that day. What options does that leave? Targeting items of the wealthier, gang involvement, alcoholism and more. Of course, this is not the only factor. There are systems around him – economic, social, political, that play a part in his story.
Repeated generation after generation.
It’s been called a cycle. There is no easy exit – no straight line to follow directions out of.
And so, it’s into the cycle we go – and many others – to find a point to grab onto and wrestle with, loosening the ease before another generation repeats the same story.
The opportunity to work is one point we have grabbed onto. Access to small amounts of capital and basic basic financial services – the ability to save, training in a marketable skill. Attacking the thief of idleness through work.
With work, Father, husband finds something to accomplish, and a way to provide. Dignity. Mother, wife, finds value in services that can better the community rather than play on their vices. Dignity.
But today, we wake up and find ourselves in a different environment. Several friends cannot go to work because the federal government has termed their jobs un-essential. Our situation is different – support raising requires a different set of scheduled events. For those of us without an “8-5,” it is all too easy to feel a different pull…
I should be doing something more.
Anxiety begins to build when there is not a pile of things scheduled to do – projects that need to be completed.
Is this idleness? Or is this an unhealthy pressure from something different?
This world – the first-world, operates on constant movement and submission to chronos.
To work, to perform, in quest of success. Recognition. To please, and to impress. Until there is nothing left to give.
Even in the world of working against poverty, a pressure builds to succeed.
No matter how hard you have worked – at the end of the day what do you have to show for it? Often, in Kenya, there was very little “productivity” we could show at the end of the day. One thing a day was enough to be proud of. This is not laziness – this is all of the factors that play into getting something accomplished. The four meetings that need to take place to have everyone on board before a decision is made – the cultural importance of the group. The things that come up while those meetings are supposed to take place – the inability to control outside circumstances – life keeps going on in the world outside – the world we are here to work for.
The issue is not work itself, but the way we define ourselves by our work – or lack of.
How often initial meetings begin with the question – “What do you do?”
Somehow, somewhere, we have developed this idea that our worth is intrinsically tied to what we do.
Which slowly, over time, tears away at the same dignity we praise to build up.
Both worlds ache for lack of freedom. Freedom that lifts Father, husband from turning to drink and releases Mother, wife from choosing shame.
Freedom that breathes on the over-worked and says simply, “You are the beloved.”
Breath that breathes kairos into our chronos, and tells us that God is nearer than we think.
And, as we pause to catch a whisper of this breath, washes over us with the identity that we can never find in work.
Before we can leave our homes searching for income for the day, or before we can lift a finger to turn on the computer, We are loved.
How has a month passed without a new post? This month, I can tell you exactly how. 7,000 driven miles, at least 8 audio-books completed, (Our favorite activity during long drives), surprise visits and long-awaited reunions, farewells and see-you-laters, meeting new friends (and new family members!), and lots and lots of food. Most recently, weContinue reading “Dinner table conversations: The heritage of our food”
Five minutes away
These days, I struggle with time. Perhaps it’s “Africa Time,” that isn’t easily shaken. Time is governed by relationships, not by a schedule. Today I noticed something more. By simply being in California, I feel like I am five minutes away from anything. We are in the same time zone, and Orange County isn’t as large as oceans away, so clearly it shouldn’t take more than five minutes to get anywhere. Having lived half my college experience on the 91 freeway, you would think I knew better.
Regardless, it has happened again and again. Late by at least 15-minutes. And now with school back in session, University traffic clogs up freeways and side-streets alike. I’m sure you find yourself in the same traffic, but hopefully having planned a bit better on the timing to your final destination.
We’ve been in California for the last several weeks, spending sweet time camping, hiking, cooking, eating, laughing, walking, and driving more than ever before. And now, traffic is the reminder that people are back to normal. A dear friend is starting school as a professor at two Christian Universities. Another is starting her MSW program while raising two beautiful girls. We are mourning along with others, lives that have passed on in the last few weeks. New school years, new friends, new projects, and a return to their “normal”, whatever it may look like.
People have asked if it is hard, going back and forth, staying in other people’s homes, traveling for months. It was this way just after we got married – our first three months of marriage were in other people’s homes! Sure, it may not be the typical experience, but it is ours, and we are thankful.
Right now, our full time job is support-raising. Inviting people to partner with us as we move to Malawi.
Both of these things reverberate daily what I long to hear as an echo forever –
All is gift – All is grace
Every day, we drive up to a home that many someones have let us stay in at no cost. We eat meals together, and share laughter and tears at the joys and heartaches of their lives. And for these few moments, days, or weeks that we are able to share together, we cherish closeness of proximity. Nudging against the schedule, we feel it.
There is more than living out these chronological days.
It is easy to feel a part of lives that are five minutes away. It’s these moments and conversations that build on previous foundations of friendships, and invite new ones to form. And somehow, they are sweet, knowing that time is limited.
Our shared space is not often this near.
Pulling into a prime parking spot, the dashboard reminds me that I am ten minutes past my expected arrival time. But how wonderful to be able to drive ten minutes away and hug a friend or family member. Twenty minutes. An hour.
Despite the traffic, in comparison, it’s only five minutes away.
Several friends have recently returned from short-term trips to Kenya. This time, I get to hear them from the other side. It is good to hear things moving on, changing, growing. A few weeks ago I was able to connect with friend-turned-sister, who I worked and lived with in Kenya. We remarked that the worldContinue reading “Open-ended stories”
“Please remember us.” I cannot count the good-byes I have shared in the last three years. Whether dear friends leaving after some time, or new friends leaving after a week, it is another part of the “normal” of life overseas. Over time, it becomes a choice to continue saying “hello,” when you know you willContinue reading “Please remember us”
I’ve never noticed the crowd before. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” Now, THAT I’ve read again and again. I’ve imagined it, a peaceful scene. Jesus, on the top of a rocky hill, in the middle of green grass swaying as a light breeze carries his words toContinue reading “On seeing the crowd…”
Kenyan pupils can be incredible listeners. (I learned a few years ago, that in Kenya a “pupil” is called so when they are between nursery class to grade 8, and a “student” is one who is in Secondary School – Form one to form four.) Many a foreign visitor has remarked on how well behavedContinue reading “Blue Cotton Shorts”
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” – John 15:9 During my first season in Kenya, I wrote it on a notecard and stuck it on the bathroom mirror in the room where I lived in the Ham’s house. I recited it to myself, memorized it toContinue reading “Learning to Trust: Reflections on the death of Brennan Manning”
She walked past the butchery section as I turned the corner. Smelling of tobacco, he followed as they picked up groceries. I pushed my cart in between them to get to the milk. Picking up what I needed, I continued to the fruit aisle, very conscious of their interaction – trying not to stare. She, aContinue reading “Grocery Store on a Good Friday”
When Ryan and I got married, we had to sort through all of our things. This can be a challenge no matter where you are living. Who knew we collectively had so much STUFF – much of it with no value other than sentiment. So, when you are planning to move overseas, much of thatContinue reading “Special Needs Olympics and the joy of certficates”
When you are engaged, conversation is all about the wedding. Colors and decor, decisions and dresses- are all part of the joyous anticipation before the big day! For Ryan and I, the conversations sped up and lasted a total of two months. (A wonderful decision, I might add!) And in the weeks following, to myContinue reading “Marriage, Mold and Home Decor”
In December, we hosted our first humanitarian group. It was interesting to observe the differences from faith based trip that our halls our normally filled with. In many ways they are the same. Professionals committed to providing quality care. Compassionate individuals working for free – even raising money to be able to provide this careContinue reading “On short-term teams: Where are we going?”
I [Ryan] have somehow found myself in the fortunate position of having read 78 books during the year of 2012. This short list is what I deem to be the ‘top 13 most worthwhile reads’. And same for Justine’s top 5 list below. Let us know if you have any book suggestions for the yearContinue reading “Most Enjoyable Reads of 2012”
There are many ways to wait. The type of waiting can be determined by what we are waiting for. Last week, 16 mobile dental units were set up in the church hall, and the gates were opened. We began with the students, but word soon got out. There was a dental clinic in town, andContinue reading “Waiting”
The floor was immaculate by comparison, and lined with a thick patterned plastic design, similar to wallpaper or drawer liner. Blue flowers dotted the ground, and met lace fabric that covered the stack of belongings in the corner. In front of me, a waist high cabinet held pots, pans and other items necessary for dailyContinue reading “Meeting Faith and Something New”
Today, we returned to work. A few days of rest on the coast, a day to unpack, and a day to jump back into the full Kenyan swing. Our first day back was a reminder that every day in Kenya is an adventure. Perhaps we are just more aware of how out of control weContinue reading “There and back again: A Hayes Tale”
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